So the big day has been and gone for another year. In the Welly house it was a nice chance to relax after the previous busy days of preparation. Gardening featured heavily as a theme for presents. I was delighted to get some wooden seed trays which will look perfect in the greenhouse, there was Richard Mabey’s excellent Flora Britannica, membership of the RHS and 2 mugs which will keep me supplied with tea throughout the growing year.
Then Boxing Day arrives and we enter ‘Chrimbo Limbo’ as I heard it rather aptly referred to on the radio the other day. For some reason, I do seem to have spent a lot of time over the last week asleep. I even nodded off one afternoon whilst reading my new book, although that is no reflection on Richard Mabey’s writing, I hasten to add. I think the dark, gloomy days are getting to me and my body clock. We like to get out over the Christmas period and get some fresh air and exercise but this year the weather has done its best to put a halt to this idea. It has officially been declared the wettest year on record in England; as for Wales, well if there has been a wetter year I’m just glad I wasn’t there to experience it. The incessant rain has made most of our favourite places to walk no-go areas turning them into muddy quagmires with huge puddles. We’re hardy folk though and we’ve donned waterproofs and wellies and squelched our way around the appropriately named local RSPB Wetlands Reserve, despite lashing rain and howling gales.
The reserve was created in 2000 to compensate for the loss of mudflats further up the coast at Cardiff. The Cardiff Bay project constructed a barrage to make a freshwater lake with the idea of regenerating the old city docks by creating a marina. Mud flats are an incredibly important habitat but unfortunately a muddy tidal estuary doesn’t look that attractive when you want to build penthouses and bars, so it had to go.
The Wetlands Centre at Newport used to be a dumping ground for waste from the nearby power station but it has been transformed into 145 acres of reed beds and lagoons. Situated on the Gwent Levels, an area of ancient marshland grazing and reen systems (drainage ditches), and looking out onto the Severn Estuary, it is a flat, bleak landscape. I like walking here. It isn’t what you would call beautiful in the way that a Cornish beach is or the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales are but there is something about the place. For one, I love being by water and, whilst there is no sandy beach or stunning cliffs, I still find it incredibly soothing and good for the soul.
There is also something about somewhere that is bleak. You have to try that little bit harder to find the beauty but it is possible, even with a power station not too far away. On a frosty day, with the bluest of skies the weather bleached reeds glisten, golden in the light. Even on a gloomy winter’s day feint shafts of sunlight appear from the heavily laden clouds and there is enough light to create a silvery, shimmering effect on the muddy beach as the tide goes out. Dotted about the mud are hundreds of footprints of the birds that have been here seeking out food buried below and flocks of birds scoot along only a few feet above the water.
We’ve seen the lagoons frozen, creating duck ice rinks and, at the other extreme, some of the ponds almost dry after month upon month of drought. We’ve stood transfixed by murmurations of starlings and watched agog as a heron swallowed a duckling whole. In summer, the place is a teeming with dragonflies and damselflies, moths and butterflies, and stunning orchids appear alongside the paths. We’re ever hopeful that one day we’ll spot the magnificent bearded tit or hear the boom of a bittern, both inhabitants of the site. Fellow visitors taunt us, their sightings written on a board in the visitors centre. One day we’ll be lucky too.
Good for you, getting out and about over the Christmas period despite the weather. I’ve been holed up indoors looking out at the rain lashing down, I don’t think it’s ever going to give up. You’ve received some lovely gifts, I’ve had my eye on those wooden seed trays for a while, but there were none inside my stocking. I usually get lots of gardening related gifts at Christmas but I haven’t received one this year, most peculiar.
Lots of lovely pressies there, strange, most of mine had a gardening theme too! Glad you were able to get out in the fresh air for your walk at the wetland centre, being out always lifts the spirits at this time of year. Lets hope that 2013 is a lot drier!
Anna B said:
Loving your garden related prezzies! The seed trays are great. I too visited a reserve, RSPB Leighton Moss is very close to my parents house. It was flooded in a few parts, good job I had my wellies! We’re going to go back in the morning too, I’m a closet twitcher. I was lucky enough to see a Bittern there last year. This rain is started to annoy me though. I think this is the most un-christmassy Christmas I’ve ever experienced and can only attribute that to the rain. Glad you enjoyed your day 🙂
My in-laws go to Leighton Moss a lot. I love watching birds and was so pleased to see my first goldcrest yesterday. Wow I’d love to see a Bittern, my in-laws saw one at Leighton Moss last year. maybe we need to take a trip there next time we visit them. I agree it certainly isn’t very seasonal is it? I’ve got primroses flowering away in the garden which is just a little it strange. Happy New Year. 🙂
Good presents, and the Wetlands Centre looks to be a really interesting place to visit, and somewhere a bit different.
Happy New Year! xx
Wasn’t Santa oh so thoughtful WW 🙂 The Wetland Centre looks a great place to visit in all seasons and I hope that you get to see those more shy and elusive birds before long.
Nice pictures of your days out. I know what you mean about the bleak days and finding beauty in it. Although usually I find it easier somehow. Everything seems sharper and more defined in winter, such as trees and landscapes. All the best for 2013.
Caro (urbanvegpatch) said:
Don’t you just love it when people get it right at Christmas? I had to look up Flora Britannica as I hadn’t come across it before; it looks to be a brilliant read and one that I’d enjoy having on the gardening bookshelf. The Wetlands remind me of Dungeness on the Sussex Coast, another good place for walking and bird-antic spotting; Like you, I have to get out into the fresh air regardless of the weather.
Nice to read about your Christmas – wish you all the very best for 2013 and hope to continue reading your excellent posts! Happy New Year! Caro xx
Just popping by to wish you a happy new year. A very healthy, happy and prosperous 2013.
I am on the other side of the Severn Estuary, and it does indeed have a godforsaken beauty to it. If you can manage a trip to the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust place at Slimbridge at all, this winter would be a good time to go. I was there a couple of days ago and it is teeming with birds this year – the best year for quite a while. Hope you have a wonderful New Year, and thank you for your lovely blog.
We went to Slimbridge a couple of winters ago when it was very cold and the ponds were all frozen. It’s a great place. I saw a goldcrest for the first time yesterday on a local walk which I was pretty excited about. The mild weather has meant not so many birds in my garden this year which is a pity. I hope you have a splendid 2013 and I’m glad you like the blog 🙂
I’m ashamed to say that the whole time that I lived the other side of the Severn, I never visited the Newport wetlands. You make them look magical.
Thank you, Janet. They don’t have the reputation of Slimbridge where there is so much more to see. The great thing about the Newport wetlands is they are free. It’s always busy and full of families which is nice to see. They’re useful for us because OH is often on-call which means we can’t go too far and don’t want to pay to get in only to find we have to leave because he’s been called.